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Defendant testifies she brought contraband to Sedgwick County Jail inmate because she feared him

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, August 7, 2013, at 7:29 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, August 9, 2013, at 6:55 a.m.

A woman charged with smuggling contraband into the Sedgwick County Jail told a jury Wednesday that she did so only after a gang member who had served time for attempted murder threatened to hurt her and her family.

“I had empathy for him,” Nancy Bunville testified Wednesday. “I cared about him. But I also was very fearful of him (after) I found out he was a convicted murderer.”

Bunville, 38, is standing trial this week on four felony counts of trafficking contraband in a correctional institution. She is accused of smuggling a cellphone, a tool set, a pouch of tobacco and some Tylenol into the jail in March or April 2012.

Testimony showed that Bunville was arrested after a cellphone was found in her possession during a search of clinic employees on April 9, 2012. An administrator said Bunville lost her job when her security clearance was revoked because of the cellphone.

Bunville told the jury that she grew up in Nebraska and South Dakota and was not familiar with street gangs when she came to Wichita. On Nov. 16, 2011, she went to work for Conmed, a Maryland company that has a contract to provide medical services at the jail clinic.

She said that shortly after going to work as a nurse in the jail clinic, she started receiving notes from inmates. One of the inmates was Mario Merrills, who, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections, had served time for attempted second-degree murder.

Bunville testified that Merrills often badgered her about bringing a cellphone and other items into the jail.

“When he asked you about those things, what did you say?” defense lawyer Steve Ariagno asked.

“I said, ‘No. No way,’ ” Bunville said.

“Did that ever change to a yes?” Ariagno asked.

“Yes,” Bunville said. “Eventually.”

Bunville said the change came after Merrills got physical with her in January 2012.

“He smacks me on the back of the head and says, ‘Give me the damn phone,’ ” she testified. “He said, ‘You don’t know who you’re messing with. I will come and take care of your husband, and I will kidnap you.’ ”

Bunville said Merrills then opened his jail jumpsuit to display a tattoo that showed he was affiliated with the Bloods street gang.

“Did you think something would happen if you did not give him a phone?” Ariagno asked.

“Very much so,” Bunville replied.

“Did you get a phone?” Ariagno asked.

“Yes, I went and bought a phone at Wal-Mart,” she said.

The case is expected to go to the jury on Thursday.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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